This is the third Jane Aiken Hodge novel I’ve read and my favourite so far. Based on an earlier story, Camilla, which was serialised in Ladies’ Home Journal in 1961, Marry in Haste was originally published in 1969 and has just been reissued by Ipso Books. It is set in England and Portugal during the Napoleonic Wars and has just the combination of romance, suspense and history that I am coming to expect from her novels.
The saying “marry in haste and repent at leisure” perfectly describes Camille de Forêt’s situation. Having fled to England with her father, a French Comte, and changed her name to Camilla Forest to distance herself from her French origins, she has spent several years in the home of the Duchess of Devonshire. Following the death of the Duchess, Camilla found a position as governess in another household but when we meet her at the beginning of the novel she has been dismissed from her job and sent away with no money and nowhere to go.
A chance encounter with the Earl of Leominster when his carriage passes her on the road seems to provide the perfect solution to Camilla’s problems. She needs a husband, a home and some money; Leominster (or Lavenham, as he is known to his friends) needs a wife in order to claim his inheritance. In the sort of plot development which will be familiar to readers of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances, Lavenham proposes to Camilla and she accepts – on the condition that it will be a marriage in name only. Of course, it doesn’t take long for Camilla to discover that she is falling in love with her husband after all…but will Lavenham, who has a distrust of women based on a bad experience in his past, ever return her feelings?
Marry in Haste is an enjoyable and entertaining novel; it’s not particularly original (as I said, it feels quite similar to some of Georgette Heyer’s books, among others) and most of the plot twists are very predictable, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to read. The romance between Lavenham and Camilla is thwarted by misunderstandings, lies and communication problems, which makes it feel very contrived at times, but it’s satisfying overall – and anyway, things which would be likely to annoy me in a more ‘serious’ novel feel much more acceptable in this sort of book. There’s also a secondary romance later in the book, involving Lavenham’s younger sister, the lively and irresponsible Chloe, and I enjoyed this storyline too.
Most of the action takes place in Portugal, where Lavenham is sent early in the novel to carry out secret diplomatic work. Camilla and Chloe accompany him there and promptly find themselves caught up in the conflict involving France, Britain, Spain and Portugal which has been escalating in Europe. There are some lovely descriptions of Portugal and enough historical detail to give the reader a basic understanding of the Peninsular War, but the focus is always on the characters and the relationships between them. I was disappointed that Lavenham kept abandoning his wife and sister for long periods while he was away on undercover work, but I can see that it was necessary for the plot and enabled them to have some adventures of their own while trying to escape the French and make their way back to the safety of England.
I’m looking forward to reading more Jane Aiken Hodge as so far I’ve only read this one, Strangers in Company and Watch the Wall, My Darling (three very different books). I already have a second-hand copy of Red Sky at Night on my shelf as well as another new reissue, First Night, from NetGalley – and I think it’s time I tried her sister, Joan Aiken’s, books too!
Thanks to Ipso Books for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.